Aging and Food Access

While 12 percent of the population faces food insecurity, 16 percent of seniors are food insecure. With a higher proportion of adults over 65 than the national average, Delaware needs to ensure that its seniors have access to healthy, nutritious food. In addition to facing the same challenges all community members face when accessing healthy food, seniors tend to face additional obstacles due to limited mobility and reduced income.

Infographic listing barriers to healthy food access for seniors. Barriers include low SNAP enrollment, living alone, reduced income, mobility disabilities, less personal vehicle access, and health problems

Mobility Barriers to Healthy Food Access Among Seniors

As is the case for the population as a whole, the ability to travel to healthy food retailers plays a key role in access to healthy food among seniors. In addition to the transportation barriers faced by all members of the community, seniors tend to encounter many mobility barriers at higher rates than the rest of the population. These challenges include:

  • Mobility Disabilities and Health Problems: As people age, they are more likely to develop disabilities and health problems that limit mobility by making movements such as walking and biking more difficult or impossible. These mobility limitations can make it difficult for seniors to travel to and navigate within healthy food Similarly, weakness and reduced motor control make carrying groceries and cooking food more difficult.
  • Less Personal Vehicle Access: Senior households are less likely to own cars than other households. Additionally, many people lose the ability to drive safely as they age. Together, these factors make it difficult for seniors to drive themselves to food retailers to obtain healthy
  • Living Alone: Seniors who live alone are more likely to experience food insecurity than those who live with others. Whereas seniors in single member households must rely on themselves for daily tasks, in multi-member households, each member can use their abilities to help each other. For example, some household members may be able to assist with transportation to food retailers, provide additional income to purchase healthy food, and help cook food.

Communities can address mobility challenges among older adults by:

  • Planning for aging-friendly communities where Universal Design is used in housing construction or remodeling projects to enable older adults to age in place.
  • Providing citizens with information about supportive, human- services transportation offered by nonprofit organizations (i.e., Delaware senior centers and/or village-model communities).
  • Planning and zoning for healthy food retailers such as supermarkets, farmers’ markets, farm stands, and community gardens near areas with large senior populations.
  • Supporting in-home and community-based nutrition programs such as Meals on Wheels and these Delaware programs: City Fare, Modern Maturity Center, CHEER, and Meals on Wheels Lewes-Rehoboth.

Food Affordability for Seniors

An image of seniors purchasing fresh produce at a farmers' market.

Seniors visit a farmers’ market to buy affordable, fresh produce. Farmers’ markets can offer incentives for seniors with coupons or senior days to make sure the food is affordable for seniors.
Credit: Complete Communities

Affording healthy food can be challenging for seniors who often have a reduced income. Communities can make locally grown healthy food more affordable for seniors by offering incentives for farmers’ markets and farm stands. Similar to incentives for those who receive SNAP or WIC, a senior farmers’ market incentive program typically provides seniors with an extra amount of money to spend (typically ranging from $0.50 to $2.00) for every dollar they spend on produce at a farmers’ market. Some communities choose to offer “senior days” at farmers’ market where incentives or other discounts are provided to seniors on a less frequent basis such as monthly or bimonthly.

In addition to working with local food programs, communities can make healthy food more affordable for seniors by connecting seniors with and supporting existing programs on the state and federal level that provide nutrition assistance to seniors. These programs include:

  • The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP): This program, provided by the USDA, is administered by local food banks and pantries. People above the age of 60 who qualify as low-income are eligible for this program, which provides several staple food items such as fruits, vegetables, and proteins each month.
  • Food Bank of Delaware Mobile Pantry: The mobile pantry provides low-income individuals of all ages with healthy food statewide. The pantry asks for community partners to contact the food bank if they are interested in hosting the pantry. Local organizations and governments can work to host the mobile pantry near areas with large populations of seniors.
  • Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP): As of 2018, SFMNP provides seniors with $20 coupons that can be used for healthy foods at farmers’ While in 2018, only four markets offered SFMNP, many more farmers’ markets intend to support the SFMNP program in 2019 and the future. Visit the Delaware Department of Agriculture website to learn more about which farmers’ markets participate in SFMNP and find out how the market in your town can become a part of this program.

Improving SNAP Enrollment Among Seniors

Infographic listing barriers to SNAP enrollment for seniors. One barrier is misinformation. Incorrect information about benefit amounts and qualifications can result in decreased senior applications because they fear they will not qualify or they will not receive enough. Another barrier is stigma. Seniors may feel that others may think differently of them if they enroll in SNAP. In reality, SNAP is a confidential program ensuring all people have access to the healthy food they need. A third barrier is lack of transportation. For seniors without access to a car, attending in person interviews for SNAP can be daunting. Providing transportation assistance and connecting seniors with paratransit can help address this obstacle. A fourth barrier is lack of awareness. Throughout the lives of many seniors, the SNAP program was referred to as food stamps, so it is important to make sure they are aware that SNAP provides the same assistance that food stamps once did. The fifth barrier is length, detail intensive applications. Given the length and detail of the application, finding the required documents and properly filling out the application can be difficult. Providing application assistance can help streamline this process.Though many seniors qualify for SNAP benefits, only 42 percent of eligible seniors sign up for and receive these benefits. Considering that 83 percent of eligible residents of all ages participate in SNAP, the participation rate among seniors is unusually low. Many national groups, states, and community organizations have researched the reasons behind low senior enrollment in SNAP, and they have identified several barriers including stigma, misinformation, lack of awareness, lack of transportation to required interview, and the lengthy, detail- intensive nature of the application.

To address some of the challenges seniors face with SNAP enrollment, the federal government has partnered with several states to implement and test the Elderly Simplified Application Process (ESAP). With ESAP, states work with the federal government to put in place procedures that make it easier for seniors to enroll in and stay enrolled in SNAP. Some examples of ESAP procedures include shorter applications, reduced re-enrollment requirements, and permission for telephone interviews rather than in-person interviews. In Pennsylvania’s first year of ESAP implementation, they received 52.2 percent more senior applications from SNAP.

As of July 2019, Delaware does not have an ESAP program in place, but communities and organizations can help address challenges associated with SNAP applications by directly assisting their seniors. The Food Bank of Delaware provides application assistance to any interested parties, so communities can connect seniors with the Food Bank.

Additionally, communities can engage in SNAP outreach that works to increase awareness of SNAP and lessen the stigma about SNAP. Improving awareness of SNAP among seniors is especially important because the SNAP program was known as food stamps for the majority of the lives of seniors who qualify for SNAP. For those who did not qualify for SNAP before retirement, there may be confusion regarding the relationship between SNAP and food stamps. Through these efforts, communities can improve SNAP enrollment and reduce food insecurity among local seniors.

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